When I first heard the news of Jamie Coleman’s resignation as Scotland High School’s baseball coach, I couldn’t help but think of another coaching change that occurred more than a decade ago, albeit in a different sport.
The late Dean Smith retired as the University of North Carolina men’s basketball coach a month before 1997 season, one year after pacing the Tar Heels to a Final Four appearance. Smith’s long-time assistant Bill Guthridge took over the next three years before retiring in 2000, leaving the program after guiding it to two more Final Fours.
UNC then initiated its first outside search for a head coach in a half-century, hiring Matt Doherty, an alumni who won a championship as a player under Smith in 1982.
The Tar Heels struggled mightily with Doherty as coach, failing to qualify for the NCAA Tournament during the 2001-2002 and 2002-2003 seasons after he guided them to the second round of the tourney in his inaugural year. He resigned after only three seasons at the helm of the team and UNC eventually brought in Roy Williams to replace him, who has since led the Tar Heels to two national championships during his tenure.
At Scotland, former baseball coach and athletic director Tommy Britt was the face of the school, much like Smith was for UNC. Britt took the reigns of the baseball program in 1992, and he helped the Scots reach consistent levels of success not seen before or after he roamed the dugout.
The Scots won numerous Southeastern Conference titles, and the years they didn’t bring home championship hardware, more often than not they were in contention entering the home stretch of the season.
Britt brought a 4A state championship to Laurinburg in 2006, and he coached five players who earned all-state honors that season. He sent droves of players to college during his career, and some reached the professional ranks as well.
Needless to say, when Britt stepped down in 2012, the person hired to replace him had enormous shoes to fill.
And the person with the unenviable task of coaching in his stead was Jamie Coleman.
The Scots were never able to string together sustained success during Coleman’s time with the school. Scotland won over 20 games in Britt’s final year — Coleman’s teams barely reached half that total despite qualifying for the postseason in two of his three seasons.
Scotland lost in the first round of the state playoffs in 2013, then finished under .500 and failed to earn a postseason berth in 2014.
The next year was make or break for Coleman, and early indications showed this season’s team was his best to date. The Scots returned Grant English, a Winthrop University commit, and several other talented players in Cross Holfert, Donta Green and Sam Gray.
All of those players lived up to the billing, earning all-SEC honors at the end of the season, but Scotland as a team never quiet got over the hump. The Scots were tied for first place in the conference entering the final week of the regular season, but dropped gut-wrenching contests to Lumberton and Richmond Senior to finish third in the standings.
Then, Scotland blew seventh-inning leads against the Raiders in the SEC tournament semifinals and against Garner Magnet in the first round of the state playoffs to end a once-promising year, and Coleman resigned more than two weeks later.
He was quickly scooped up by SEC rival Hoke County, who hired him this week to replaced former coach Michael Ray. Coleman joins a situation that is the complete opposite of what he encountered with Scotland — the Bucks finished 3-18 last season, 0-10 in the Southeastern Conference, and closed the year on an 11-game losing streak.
There will not be expectations for immediate success at Hoke, and he won’t have to live in the shadow of the late Britt like he did during his Scotland coaching career.
Meanwhile, for the Scots, they are tasked with hiring their third baseball coach in 22 seasons.
The way I see it, you don’t want to be the one replacing the legend, like Doherty did with Smith and Coleman did with Britt. Yes, Guthridge bridged the gap for three seasons before Doherty’s hire, but he didn’t nearly face as much scrutiny as Doherty because he was Smith’s trusted assistant and a UNC mainstay. Doherty was the unproven coaching commodity that was tasked with taking over one of college basketball’s most iconic programs.
It’s far more beneficial to take over for the person who has already dealt with those pressures, much like Williams did when he was hired after Doherty’s resignation. Many UNC fans just wanted the team to become relevant again, then focus on winning titles.
I feel the same can be said for Scotland baseball. Coleman has more or less released the next hire from that magnified attention, and the new coach can begin forging a unique brand for the program instead of sculpting it in the shape of prior expectations.
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.